One of these days I’ll catch up with my blog so that I’m not always posting about things a month after they happen…
The winter holidays in Armenia are quite different from back in the States, and I’d been hearing about them since I arrived nearly a year (!) ago. First of all, Christmas (Սուրբ Ծնունդ, Surp Tsnund, literally “holy birthday”), is celebrated January 6th, and is a much milder affair than American Christmas, usually just involving a trip to the village church. Nor Tari (new year) is the main event, running from midnight on New Year’s Eve (when the town’s citizens with their own money put on one heck of a fireworks show) more or less all the way to Surp Tsnund.
At the center of Nor Tari is the dining room table, piled high with food and drinks. People pull out all the stops, serving caviar, pork thigh, expensive cognac, and crocodile meat (if you’re an oligarch). Additionally, family members exchange small gifts – my host folks gave me new slippers, I gave various family members framed family pictures and maple syrup sent from home, and Emilia gave me an impressive switchblade (this was definitely Alik’s idea, see below).
All week, people are out and about, visiting their friends, neighbors, and family, dropping in to eat and drink. All of this visiting was simultaneously lovely and exhausting; it was a great way to get to know my neighbors better and share an important Armenian experience with my friends and family here, but by the end of the week those volunteers who had stayed in our villages for Nor Tari (many, particularly English teachers, vacation abroad during Nor Tari) agreed that the first verse of “Who Can It Be Now?” accurately captured our mindsets. Nor Tari is also notorious among volunteers for provoking gastrointestinal issues, and I’ll just say I found this accurate and leave it at that.
Nor Tari also includes visits to the town cemetery on what seemed like everyone’s part, either on the 2nd or 7th (there’s a debate which I don’t fully understand about which is the proper day to visit). Additionally, families who have had a death in the previous year do not put up the generally lavish Nor Tari decorations (though they still set a full table), nor do they make wide social circuits during the week, but rather stay at home to receive visitors. I’ll try to remember to take and post pictures of the cemetery at a later date, as it’s one of the most beautiful spots in town with some of the best mountain and forest views; Armenian cemeteries also differ from American ones in that detailed portraits of the deceased are carved into the gravestones.
While Nor Tari is a treasured Armenian holiday, I heard a wide range of opinions on it from folks I talked to. Teenagers and younger kids expressed pretty unanimous love for it, but older folks, particularly the women, who end up doing most if not all of the food preparation and cleaning (which is an all-day task, as people can come over pretty much anytime between 10 AM and PM), expressed mixed views. The main critiques were that everything took up so much time, everyone has the same things to eat on their table every year, and that some people go into debt to set a suitably extravagant table (my table, pictured below, was a comparatively modest affair).
Another interesting aspect of the holidays was seeing how into the Chinese Zodiac Armenia gets. 2017 is the year of the rooster, and such decorations abounded. My favorite manifestation of this is the calendars sold everywhere leading up to Nor Tari, featuring chickens and roosters photoshopped (and photoshopped well, these are no amateur jobs) into a variety of humorous situations: soloing on guitar in front of a roaring crowd, watering a money tree, etc. You really can’t afford not to pick up one of these calendars for the roughly fifty cent going price.
Finally, as a sidenote, I moved back in with my host folks after I came back from France (which will be my next blog post whenever I get to it) in the middle of January. I anticipate living with them through the end of March, or whenever it gets a bit warmer. I love the house I was living in, and it’ll be perfect the rest of the year, but it’s just too cold and lonely in the winter; Emilia’s response to my wanting to move back was a patient, “we told you it was hard to live alone in the winter”, which led to a great discussion of American individualism v. Armenian collectivism. I’m incredibly grateful to my wonderful host family for taking me back in and continuing to feed me so well and keep the house comfortably heated (and my moving timeline was ideal, as three days after I moved it snowed almost two feet). So rest assured, anyone who was understandably worried about me freezing to death this winter, I’m warm again.
Emilia’s daughters were being a bit raucous recently, and to get them to quiet down Alik shouted something like, “Ձուացել!” (if I heard it right – dzuatsel). Chickens are extra talkative before they lay an egg, then quiet down, and I’d translate this phrase roughly as, “go lay an egg already!”. Love it.